Residents returning to bush fire damaged homes warned to be aware of asbestos dangers

NSW and Queensland residents returning to homes and properties damaged by recent catastrophic bushfires are being warned of the risk of stirring up deadly asbestos fibres as they sift through damaged or destroyed homes.

The Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia has warned that a high proportion of homes built before 1987 contain asbestos products, while the use of asbestos fibro sheeting was particularly prevalent in farm sheds and outbuildings.

ADFA president Barry Robson said the intense heat from bushfires often shatters bonded asbestos products, allowing the deadly fibres to mix with ash and other debris and become airborne.

“As people return to their homes it is a natural instinct to search through the remains for cherished possessions that may have survived the blaze, but it is essential that people protect themselves and their families from potential dangers,” Mr Robson said.

“Intense fires cause asbestos materials to break up, meaning the deadly fibres are set free and can easily become airborne when disturbed.

“Losing your home is tragic enough, but the last thing anyone wants is to add the future suffering of asbestos related diseases because appropriate safety precautions weren’t taken.”

Mr Robson said suitable asbestos masks and disposable suits could be purchased from most major hardware stores, while thoroughly watering down the debris will also limit the risk of asbestos fibres becoming airborne due to wind or other disturbance.

“If your home was more than 30 years old, or there were sheds or other farm buildings of that age, it is always best to assume that they may have contained asbestos products until proven otherwise,” Mr Robson said.

“Asbestos was used in hundreds of products and is most commonly located in walls or roof sheets, water pipes, kitchens and bathrooms.

“While it is completely natural to want to assess the damage and begin the clean-up, it is imperative that people avoid disturbing asbestos in these older homes.

“Making sure appropriate safety equipment is worn, or leaving the task to professionals who can safely identify potential risks, is the best way to protect yourself and your family from potentially lethal dangers during the clean-up process.”

Source: Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia